Abridged Reading Guide for John Barclay's Paul and the Gift

After reading Barclay’s Paul and the Gift I’ve had several people express interest in reading the book but generally with the comment if I ever have the time” or something to that effect. Granted, this book is fairly long and does take awhile to read. While most people outside those with a vested interest in NT scholarship will probably not have the time to read something of this size outside their field. But this book is important in many aspects and I think that many outside the field of NT (thinking especially of systematic theologians and those interested in church history) will need to wrestle or be familiar with the arguments of the book.

I thought writing up a simple reading guide for the book my help those who have an interest in the book but don’t have time to wade through the 500+ pages. So here is what I would recommend people who fall in this category to read in order to understand the argument without wading through the details. Of course, if you have questions on some of the conclusions you can dive deeper into some of the exegesis of individual texts.

  • 1.2 (24-50) - this sections covers some of the Greco-Roman background to the idea of gift and reciprocity. This sections is vital to understanding the patronage nature of ancient society and serves as a helpful foundation for the rest of the book.
  • 1.3 (51-62) - this section discusses the modern understanding of gift. Reading this will give you a helpful idea of how gifts are understood in the modern world and you will immediately notice some of the disconnect between modern western society and the ancient world regarding gifts and reciprocity.
  • 1.4 (63-65) - Barclay provides some summary of the first chapter. Personally, I find his conclusions and summaries very helpful in understanding the overall thrust of his book.
  • 2 (66-78) - this section is especially important as Barclay outlines his six perfections of grace. You will want to understand these perfections as they serve as guideposts for the rest of the book as he discusses different theologians, exegetes, and other ancient writings in connection with grace.
  • 3 (79-182) - this chapter surveys the history of interpretation of theologians and exegetes understanding of grace in Paul. The strength of this chapter is that Barclay utilizes his six perfections of grace outlines in chapter 2 in order to evaluate each person’s understanding of grace. Personally, I found this chapter one of the most intriguing and helpful in the book.
  • 4 (183-193) - Barclay helpfully summarizes part one of the book.
  • Part II of the book outlines the notion of divine gift in Second Temple Judaism. Within these chapters he surveys Wisdom of Solomon, Philo of Alexandria, The Qumran Hodayot (1QHa), Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, and 4 Ezra. While these chapters are extremely important for NT scholars I think most people can skip to his conclusions in chapter 10 (309-330). Once you read his conclusions and summary and you have specific questions you can go back to the relevant texts for a closer look.
  • 11.1 (331-332) - this short section introduces the notion of gift in Galatians
  • 11.4 (339-350) - Barclay outlines four different readings of Galatians (Martin Luther, James Dunn, J. Louis Martyn, and Brigitte Kahl)
  • 14.4 (442-448) - Barclay summarizes his conclusions to his exegesis of Galatians. Once again, if you have further questions find the relevant section and read his exegetical conclusions of that particular issue.
  • 15.1-2 (449-454) - Barclay outlines the notion of gift and mercy in Romans and discusses the transition from Galatians to Romans
  • 15.8 (490-492), 16.5 (516-519), 17.5 (556-561) - These are all conclusions and summaries to the different sections of Romans he discusses.
  • 18 (562-574) - Barclay provides his conclusions of the book.

Well there you have it! You can read Barclay’s Paul and the Gift in roughly 200 pages and get a general understanding of his argument and conclusions. I think it would be well worth you time to do so.

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